Freemasonry is
My first fire

The NSW Rural Fire Service is the world’s largest volunteer fire service and members provide fire and emergency services to approximately 95 percent of NSW. This is the story of a new member.

As you probably know, the Rural Fire Service is the primary bushfire fighting service in NSW, every state has a bushfire service and the people on the ground doing the work are volunteers. We handle bush and grass fires, house and structure fires, storm damage, search and rescue, motor vehicle accidents, community education and bush fire mitigation.

The paid members of these organisations run the system on a day to day basis and do most of the paperwork to keep the system accountable as well as keeping volunteers updated on legal changes and system requirements.

The brigades are managed by the volunteers and as in any other group, you need a president, secretary, treasurer and captain to operate the brigade. Add to this other needed tasks such as training, community education, hazard mitigation, catering to raise funds for items the system does not supply, WHS and general safety.

After you join you are required to do some training to prepare for your time on the truck. The first requirement is to open your knowledge base on what can happen ‘on the paddock’ and what you can do to protect yourself, other people and their property.

The real training then begins, going out and putting into practice what you were taught, to gain experience on how to do it and learn that each fire is different and doesn’t always go the way you were shown on course. It teaches you to be flexible and observant.

For your first fire (hopefully a small one to get your bearings!), the boss of the truck orders all out and get dressed in your protective gear. You find your hat and gloves and someone tosses you a face mask and reminds you to put your goggles on; the boss says get on the back of the truck and use the hose to put water on the base of the fire as we drive down the fire flank.

Wow this sounds like fun, off we go, but something’s happened – I can’t see, my eyes are watering, I am coughing and can’t breathe... I forgot to put on my goggles and face mask.

After what seems like hours but is only a few minutes, my eyes stop stinging and I can breathe so I get to work putting water on the fire, yet as we go past small bits of fire are missed, so we do a long turn and start again but the boss calls for the truck to stop while he checks something on the back of the truck.

Then as we start the run again all this foam comes out with the water and the fire is being put out quicker and more completely. I ask what happened and the boss said he forgot to turn a valve on for the foam proportioner.

As we drive further we reach a large blackberry bush that is alight and its heat is burning my exposed skin. Then I remember my training course said depending on the day and what is burning we can have about 40kW per square metre coming at us as well as the 40 degree day around us.

As an example, a two-bar electric radiator is about 2.4kW; 40kW is about equal to 20 bar heaters in every square metre that hits you. No wonder I’m hot and my skin’s burning. The boss keeps telling me to drink water and I don’t know how many I’ve drunk but it’s a lot and by day’s end I still haven’t needed the toilet. Finally the fire’s out and we go home, replenish the truck with drinking water (36 bottles between three of us over the day), refill the vehicle with water, foam and fuel, give it a quick wash and clean out ready for the next call. The boss asked how we went and we asked questions on why we did various things and how we could do better next time.

I learnt that breathing smoke is bad for you, without your goggles you can’t see anything from the tears, fire is hot, foam is better than straight water, don’t run or rush, keep drinking water no matter what, the first toilet stop after the fire hurts and it takes several hours to rehydrate after the fire.

Also, at the end of the day a shower takes twice as long as normal as I have soot in places I didn’t think it would go, my uniform and boots are putrid and require washing and polishing, I need a few more personal items to make the day a little more pleasant such as flavour for the water bottles, a pair of pliers, a knife, a torch, a pen and some paper to write on.

Now I’m better prepared for the next call out!

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, June 2019, pages 10 and 11.

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